Who Needs Bees: Flower-Pollinating Drones Will Save Us

Japanese scientists turned a $100 mini drone into a flower-pollinating droid. We've seen drones used for many applications, but pollination could be the most vital.

OK, that headline is a little sarcastic. Bees are terribly important; we’d be in trouble without those little active pollinators. But with bee populations sharply declining in many parts of the world, Japanese scientists have created drones that can pollinate plants just likes bees.

As MIT Technology Review first pointed out, a team from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science bought $100 mini drones on Amazon and stuck horsehair to the bottom of the drones. Then after adding ionic liquid gels to the horsehair, the drones flew into the plants and grabbed and released pollen from the male and female parts of pink and white Japanese lilies.

According to project leader Eijiro Miyako, this is the first time a drone pollinated a flower. However, Miyako doesn’t think drones are anywhere ready to replace bees as our go-to pollinators. He says “it will be perfectly feasible” if high-resolution cameras, GPS and AI are built into these mini drones. But that is challenging, of course, due to the small frames of the drones.

MIT Technology Review also spoke to a “bee broker” in California who says he doesn’t see any technology ever being able to replace bees. The broker says California’s almond industry alone requires 35 million bees - 1.8 million hives - to pollinate 900,000 acres of almond trees.

That’s a lot of drones.

We’ve seen drones used for many applications, but pollination could be the most vital.


About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
Contact Steve Crowe: scrowe@ehpub.com  ·  View More by Steve Crowe.


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